Thursday, October 1, 2009

DC Cabs To Stop Picking Up People Who Need Cabs

The informal coalition of cab drivers in DC has once again decided to step up and let the public know that they will no longer tolerate the free market system. Long oppressed by the evil Capitalist notion that providing a valuable product or service at a fair price results in profits, some cabbies will be taking a stand by refusing to pick up people late at night in Adams Morgan.

Curiously, this protest comes on the heels of Councilmember Jim Graham's right-hand man being arrested on charges of accepting bribes in exchange for promoting legislation that would artificially limit the number of cabs in DC. It's not clear who would have benefited from this. Certainly not the people trying to get cabs. If you were a cab driver with a medallion, then it would work in your favor, but then who decides who gets a medallion, and at what cost? Anyway, some cab drivers opposed it.

The sequence of events as I understand it is this:

  • Loza accepts a bribe from someone with an interest in limiting the number of cabs.
  • Loza's boss, Jim Graham, puts forward legislation for a "medallion" system, meaning every cab must bear a "medallion" to operate legally, and there are a limited number of these available.
  • Some cab drivers speak out against this legislation, presumably the ones who aren't in bed with whoever wanted the legislation
  • Loza is arrested.
  • Jim Graham pulls the legislation (even though he claims it had nothing to do with Loza)
  • For reasons that are not at all obvious, after legislation is pulled, cab drivers organize a protest against said legislation that is no longer on the table that they opposed anyway

Huh?!? From the article:
"The city wants to take the right of ownership from us, and we want to get people's attention and let people know that this is our livelihood," said Ali Tahmaseb, chairman of the Dominion of Cab Drivers.

The protest organizers said that on Saturday and Sunday between 1 and 4 a.m., taxis will not pick up customers north of U Street NW, east of Connecticut Avenue NW, south of Harvard Street NW or west of 16th Street NW.

So the idea behind this protest is to, er, force drunk people to find another way home? Such as... driving? People who more likely than not live in Arlington anyway, and therefore don't vote in DC? Classy. And stupid.

One thing is astoundingly clear to me. There are very few people who live in DC who are even remotely sympathetic to taxicab drivers. First, they seem to spend more time protesting than driving cabs. Who do they think this move will influence to take action in their favor? The people who couldn't get a cab??

You must be joking. Unlike New York City, which would become paralyzed without cabs, in DC, they are a convenience. Most people get around with cars and public transit. The reality is, you can't get a damn cab in this city half the time anyway! And even when you can actually get a cab to stop, tricking you into thinking he might take you home for a larger-than-expected fee, half the time they scurry off, leaving you standing on the curb.

Why is this? Because they frequently decide that "Columbia Heights," "Shaw," "Some Other Place Where Black People Live," or "Some Place Where I Might Not Get A Fare After Dropping You Off" is not one of the places they've ever heard of or are willing to drive to.

As a result of the difficulty in getting a cab even when they aren't on strike, very few people really depend on cabs. So even if a taxicab strike was organized well enough that most people participated, I doubt anyone would even notice or care.

So, the inevitable consequences of this latest "strike" are obvious.

1) Other cab drivers, who actively embrace working for a living, will fill show up to fill the void, and
2) You won't be able to get a cab, which you are already used to anyway, and
3) ...That's it.

This eater of farm fresh meat believes that #1 is almost certainly going to be the result anyway. The reports following most past taxicab strikes have pretty much echoed this sentiment... "there was a strike?" Yes, there are enough cabs who actually believe that earning a living is more important than trying to game the system.

Seriously, cabbies, you need to work on your PR campaign. Because what you're doing is not working.

If there are actually problems with the current cab system, then let's discuss them. But so far it is not at all clear exactly what the cabs want except, perhaps, a handout. Though they fought the meters tooth and nail, everyone else loves them, and the rate structure is one of the most beneficial for city cabs in the entire country. They have the highest drop fee anywhere, and all these other surcharges like rush hour and extra passengers that don't exist elsewhere.

Frankly, though not perfect, I think things are better than they've ever been since the meter switchover. I personally have spent much more on cabs than I ever did before, because, astoundingly, the meter system means you pay for the amount of service you receive. Whereas I used to walk miles through DMZ-like neighborhoods to avoid taking a cab, I happily will try to find one when circumstances warrant now. And I have found the demeanor and quality of service has improved too.

So I guess I'm still not sure what they want, or what their argument is for wanting whatever it is they want. On that note, I will sum all this up by saying please shut up and drive.


Anonymous said...

I'm always shocked to see someone hail a cab, tell the cabbie where they want to go before they get in, and then the cabbie drives away. A bit of advice: GET IN THE CAB first, then tell them where you want to go. Legally, they are not allow to refuse you transportation if they stop for you. If they do, AND YOU ARE IN THE CAB, copy down their name, cab number, etc., tell them thank you and that you're reporting them to the DC Taxi commission, and get out of the cab. If everyone did this, cabbies would stop thinking that it was acceptable.

Jamie said...

Your point is taken, but sometimes, especially at the end of a long night, you just don't feel like a big confrontation.

Other times though, especially if you've had a few too many, a nice cab-driver argument is just what the doctor ordered.